John F. Kennedy’s “Founding Moment of the Peace Corps” Happened in Michigan
When John F. Kennedy was campaigning for the presidency, he made a stop in Michigan.....at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
He didn't arrive until 2am, but there were still around 10,000 students waiting there to see him.
It was on October 14, 1960 when he stood on the steps of the Michigan Union and told the students he was only in town so he could get some sleep. However, he did say something that became an historic announcement.
Upon asking the students if they would be willing to help the country and serve the cause of peace, little did they know that this was the seedling of the Peace Corps. In a speech that didn't last much longer than three minutes, his key statement was “How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can! And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past”.
This little three-minute impromptu speech by Kennedy has been referred to as the "Founding Moment of the Peace Corps".
After Kennedy was elected, he signed an executive order that established the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961. Eventually, over 220,000 Americans would join and volunteer in the Peace Corps.
As the Peace Corps' founding moment was happening on October 14, 1960, the press had already gone home to bed, thinking nothing important could happen that late at night.